How Congress defeated BJP in the hill state

You win some, you lose some. That’s the story of the Congress party for today. As Himachal Pradesh continues the tradition of overthrowing the incumbent, the grand old party is all set to form the next government in the hill state. However, Congress has witnessed a significant drubbing in the Gujarat Assembly polls.

In Himachal, Congress has crossed the majority mark by securing 40 seats out of the total 68 Assembly constituencies. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has bagged 25 seats and the remaining three have been won by Independents.

Notably, the difference in the vote share of the two parties is less than one per cent. The Congress secured 43.90 per cent votes, while the BJP managed 43 per cent vote share.

BJP’s outgoing chief minister Jairam Thakur has accepted the mandate and conceded defeat. “I respect the poll results. Hope Congress elects their chief minister soon and starts working for the state,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.

“I have handed over my resignation to the Governor. Will never stop working for the development of people. We need to analyse things. There were some issues that changed the direction of the results”, he added.

How Congress registered victory in the Himachal Pradesh polls? What went wrong for the BJP? Let’s try to understand.

Congress wins as Himachal follows ‘rivaaj

Its many poll promises seem to have worked for Congress amid other factors.

In its Pratigya Patra 2022, the Himachal Pradesh Congress pledged several freebies.

The party promised 300 units of free electricity and Rs 10 crore ‘start up fund’ in all Assembly seats. It also vowed to provide Rs 1,500 monthly allowance to women between the age of 18 and 60 years.

Keeping the issues of unemployment and the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) in mind, which affects a large number of voters and their families, Congress said it would provide one lakh jobs, and restore OPS in the first cabinet meeting.

Congress also promised to set up a youth commission as well as repeal all the transfers of government employees made by the BJP-led state government on “political grounds”, Times of India reported.

ALSO READ: Himachal Pradesh has given Congress some cheer: Ab kaun banega CM?

As Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the Bharat Jodo Yatra, stayed away from campaigning in Himachal Pradesh, the party relied on its local leaders and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who led the campaign in the hill state.

Himachal Pradesh continues its tradition How Congress defeated BJP in the hill state

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra led Congress’ campaign in the hill state. PTI File Photo

Many leaders have attributed the victory to her. All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of Himachal Pradesh, Rajeev Shukla, lauded Vadra’s leadership, hailing her “hard work”, as per an NDTV report.

Vadra was also congratulated by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma who praised her “spirited” campaign in the hill state, the report said.

She had worked along with Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel for the party’s Himachal campaign.

“On the ground, Congress leaders worked hard to revive old connections with voters, neutralising the effect of the BJP’s star-studded, muscular campaign to a large extent,” says Indian Express.

While the BJP went with its incumbent Thakur as the chief minister face, Congress had multiple faces. The party’s local “stars” including Himachal Congress president Pratibha Singh in Shimla, Sukhwinder Sukhu in Hamirpur and Mukesh Agnihotri in Una helped the party’s campaign, as per Indian Express.

Himachal Pradesh continues its tradition How Congress defeated BJP in the hill state

Congress has promised to restore OPS in Himachal. PTI

With the demise of Virbhadra Singh — Congress’ tallest leader in the state and six-time chief minister — last year, experts say Congress focused on personal votes.

“Given power has changed hands in the state, Congress drew from its pool of local elites — petty contractors, political families, and workers to push its candidates’ personal charisma,” Bhanu Joshi, a PhD candidate at Brown University, wrote for Indian Express.

ALSO READ: Kingmaker Kangra: How the district decides Himachal Pradesh’s ruling party

What went wrong for the BJP?

Many things.

No party has won Himachal Assembly polls consecutively since 1985 and the state has followed the tradition again by ousting the BJP.

Like all other states, the saffron party had banked on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Himachal.

The party’s slogan was “Raj nahin, riwaaj badlega” (the tradition will change, not the government).

BJP president JP Nadda, Union ministers Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani all used the poll plank of “double engine sarkaar” in their rallies.

However, as per Indian Express, the BJP had not fathomed a “full-scale rebellion” in its state unit which cost the party dearly in the election.

The party had dropped many sitting MLAs leading to discontentment among its leaders.

BJP rebels Ashish Sharma, Hoshiyar Singh and Krishan Lal Thakur, who fought as Independents, were successful in winning their seats.

The New Pension Scheme also likely worked against the BJP government in Himachal which has around 2.5 lakh government employees. The state has seen many protests in the recent past with government workers demanding the restoration of the OPS.

Hari Das Thakur, 62, a former government employee who runs a tea and Maggi stall on national highway five in Himachal, told Newslaundry that under NPS, he receives only Rs 1,301 pension per month which would have been Rs 13,000 – half of his Rs 26,000 salary under the old scheme.

Professor Ramesh Chauhan, a political scientist, told the newspaper that these government employees in Himachal can sway at least 5 per cent of the votes.

As the Baghel government in Chhattisgarh has already announced the return of OPS, the Congress’ pitch to restore the scheme in the hill state was strengthened.

As per data by the think tank Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Himachal Pradesh has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country. In this election, it was a key issue among the voters.

Indian Express report said that the Agniveer scheme for employment in the armed forces which came amid a spike in unemployment and the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic worked against the BJP.

Protests by apple farmers over declining profits could have also hurt the saffron party’s chances of a comeback in the hill state, the report added.

With inputs from agencies

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